I’ve been asked this question a lot lately– which is totally fair because it is an obscure reference, especially if you aren’t a theatre enthusiast– so I decided it was about time to write about it…
What is a string room?
My inspiration for the title of this blog begins with the Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice. For those of you that are Greek mythology nerds, you already know that Orpheus was an exceptionally talented musician and Eurydice was his beautiful wife who met her untimely end from a snake bite (on the day of their wedding, no less). In brief, the tragedy doesn’t end there as Orpheus attempts to rescue Eurydice from the depths of the Underworld. In a bold act of romantic heroism, Orpheus is at first victorious by using his spellbinding musical talents to get past Hades. His desperate pleas to release Eurydice from death’s grip are answered…under one condition: He cannot look upon Eurydice’s face until the two lovers are safely out of the Underworld. Whether an act of cowardice, an issue of trust, sheer blind enthusiasm or perhaps just simple ignorance, Orpheus goes back on his promise and turns to face his bride moments before exiting the Underworld only for her to vanish back into Hades’ domain. As a modern-day reader, it’s easy to become completely outraged by how a momentary act of stupidity can have such dire and irreversible consequences, especially after Orpheus had already come so far. There are so many questions! First of all, WHY, Orpheus!? And then, what is this myth trying to say? Is it a commentary on trust? The power of love, even beyond the grave? A lesson to be learned on broken promises? A warning about the dangers of being too young, too in love and too possessive of the fate of another person?
Orpheus Leading Eurydice From the Underworld by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
I quite enjoy Greek mythology and I have a particular affinity for the melonchoic romanticism of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, however, a version that I have a greater fondness for is Sarah Ruhl’s play, Eurydice. This version is told from the female perspective and attempts to answer some of those questions regarding what exactly went wrong in those final moments before escaping the Underworld. I was first introduced to this play my freshman year of college when I auditioned (as a petrified, but ruthless transfer student) for the title role. I came close, but in the end I was cast as a supporting character. The entire rehearsal and performance experience was nothing short of thrilling. I felt as though I was on set for some extraordinary adventure film. Without spoiling the actual gripping content of this gorgeous play that you should absolutely read or go see a production of if you haven’t already, Sarah describes an elevator that rains from the inside as it arrives in the Underworld, talking stones, music so sweet that it causes fruit to fall from the sky, a river running the length of the stage, and finally, a string room that was to be built on-stage before the audience’s eyes. With my university’s crazy-huge budget, our special effects were like no other I had seen in my life.
Just when I thought I had experienced a once in a lifetime theatrical opportunity, a fews after I graduated from college, this mystifying play crossed my path again. I auditioned once again for the title role, but this time via a video audition for a theatre company in Maine. I had never been to Maine in my life, but as a life-long Stephen King fan, I had it on my short list of locations within the U.S. that I had to experience at least once in my life. As any actor knows, it’s a complete miracle to be cast by a video audition… and yet, within a few weeks of sending my email to Heartwood Regional Theatre, I received an email with the subject: May we call you Eurydice? I had no idea when I opened that email that I was about to accept the most memorable theatrical experience of my life.
Once cast, I vowed to read and reread the script as many times as it took to become “one in spirit” with this fascinating character, my dream of dream roles. I spent hours upon hours pouring into Sarah Ruhl’s poetic, lyrical dialogue until I felt I could reasonable decode some realism from the whimsy. I fell more and more in love with this flawed but poised, at times emotionally clumsy yet profoundly reflective, brilliantly quirky heroine. In Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation, Eurydice steers the plot ship. She makes the pivotal choices that lead to her– in this adaptation– metaphorical snake bite and then ultimately sabotages her own rescue. It’s Eurydice’s story and it goes far beyond a tragically beautiful young bride who is but a mere victim of circumstance. In fact, Sarah Ruhl illustrates a much more well-rounded protagonist by introducing multiple relationships into her world other than the one she shares with Orpheus. The most poignant of these relationships is her connection to her deceased father whom she reunites with in the Underworld. The script is just so rich in its complexities that I found myself continuing to unravel all these little delightful mysteries about my character in plain view of our audience members. As much as I wanted to understand the world through Eurydice’s lens wholly and completely before the show opened, I eventually came to the conclusion that the meaning of most of those beautiful words will always evolve for me as I look back on them at different seasons in my life.
Perhaps my favorite scene in the play is when Eurydice meets her long lost Father in the Underworld. She’s recently been dipped in the river Styx and has lost her memory, so she doesn’t quite know who he is at first, but he recognizes her immediately. Even though it’s no doubt devastating for him that she doesn’t jump into his arms and start recalling all those shared memories, he loves his daughter and wants to comfort her as the lost and confused traveler that she is. To make her feel safe, he builds her a string room. In our production, the actor playing Father took Eurydice’s umbrella (the one she carried as the elevator into the Underworld started to rain from within), stuck in into a hook that suspended from the theater’s ceiling to create the “roof” and used thick twine cascading off each corner of the umbrella to create the “walls”. This sequence was underscored with music and was, in my opinion, quite lovely to watch. Inside the string room Eurydice’s father taught her (once again) language and how to read. It was a creative space built for learning and expanding. I remember I was blocked to approach the string room when it was complete, look at it quizzically, touch a bit of the thread and then allow the audience to witness me experiencing the sensation of “coming home”. It took me many rehearsals to interpret that direction in a way that was personal for me, but at last I arrived at envisioning this big old magnolia tree that was in our backyard growing up in that moment. Without forcing the outcome, I was surprised when time and time again, tears formed in my eyes every night at the same moment. Entering the string room was like coming home.
When I started this blog I was in the midst of an artistic crisis. I had just returned from Philadelphia, where I spent a brutal season auditioning and learning the hard way that theatre might not be my home like I once thought it was. I was in such need of a creative outlet because, in a way, my creative spirit had died. I needed a string room. I needed an escape from what was expected of me, what I assumed others needed from me, and what I felt I was lacking in myself. I started this blog and called it String Room Thoughts because these are my thoughts streaming from my safe place– my authentic, unfiltered self with no expectations. It may not be a physical place, but I devote time once a week and sometimes oftener to go to my string room and pour into my creative self, my home.
It is my opinion that everyone needs a string room. When I lived in Nashville, my first solo apartment was another “string room”– a comfortable dwelling place that I could shut everyone out or invite any one I chose into. A trendy coffee shop or a cozy nook in a bookstore can also be a string room. Here are the requirements of a string room so you can find or build your own:
A string room must be…
- Precious to you (it holds existing memories or allows the opportunity for new memories to form)
- A place where you can be creative
- A place where you can allow yourself to let go of expectations and just be
- Safe (physically and emotionally)
- A place where fresh ideas are encouraged, learning is unavoidable and anything is possible
What is the goal of a string room?
The goal is whatever you want it to be. To be honest, you might not be able to pinpoint anything specific until something has already manifested from the time you’ve spent in your creative dwelling space. For me, I had zero intentions of starting a blog, sharing my most vulnerable truths with the internet, or even creative writing at all. I used to write a lot when I was a kid. I would just sit in front of the family computer, open up Microsoft Word and type out all these outlandish stories. I would go on for hours because it was fun for me. Those writings were probably pretty awful or at least clunky and childish, but it didn’t matter. Between the ages of eight and thirteen, I was so fearless with my art. I just dove in and I didn’t care if anyone ever read it. But then around 8th grade everything started to change. I felt this need to fit in with the other girls on my dance team, I started dressing like everyone else, I started dating my first boyfriend (intense, right? 8th grade!!) and worst of all– I stopped writing. I stopped letting my creative self inform who I was and let my relationships dictate most of my decisions for the rest of my teenage and early adult life. Reader, I only just started writing again in June of 2018 when I was inspired to write about my Dad for Father’s Day. I’m not an expert and as you know, I still make a thousand typos that I don’t always catch until the post has already been published. I don’t have millions of followers and I don’t have a game plan, but creating this string room has been the best therapy my artist self could have ever asked for.
Trust me, when you find your string room and allow yourself to be creative in unexpected ways, you are going to shock yourself… and it’s going to be such a wonderful awakening of the mind, heart and soul.
It’s been three days since I moved to Florida and I’m already on the hunt for a new string room. I’m looking forward to the ceremonious joy of returning to a scared and familiar spot over and over again. At the same time, I know I can’t rush this process. In a way, it has to be something that organically happens as time passes and habits are formed. And yes, there is something so thrilling about “newness”– the giddiness at the beginning of a new relationship, the fear mixed with excitement of a move or the first day of a new job– but I always prefer the old familiarity of that sensation of coming home.
This is what it is to love an artist: The moon is always rising above your house. The houses of your neighbors look dull and lacking in moonlight.
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl